How to cultivate mental toughness
When you think of a mentally tough person, who comes to mind? For me, it’s Michael Jordan.
Some see Michael as a person whose success was based solely on his inborn talent. That’s not the case.
Some feel that he didn’t have to overcome anything on his path to victory. That’s not the case.
- As a sophomore, he didn't make his varsity team.
- In his first 7 trips to the playoffs, he didn’t make it to the Finals.
- He made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, only to be defeated by the Pistons.
- The media said he wasn’t a champion like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
- When he came into the league many felt that he wouldn’t have much of an impact because at that time it was a “big man’s” league.
He overcame negative criticism from the media. Defeat on the cusp of victory. And victory in the face of difficult circumstances. How? Because he was mentally tough.
If you want to succeed, you have to be mentally tough. Period.
So the question is, how can you cultivate this kind of mental toughness?
How to cultivate mental toughness
First of all, what is mental toughness? Here’s one definition that explains it well.
“Mental toughness is the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent you from succeeding, or excelling at a task or towards an objective or a performance outcome that you set out to achieve.” — mentaltoughnessinc.com
This quote defines why mental toughness is a key ingredient to success. Everyone has doubts, worries, concerns, and circumstances that can prevent you from succeeding. Everyone has them. No one is exempt from this.
Whether we realize it or not, we face similar challenges every day. Funny enough, this is a good thing. Why? Because it gives us opportunities to build mental toughness.
If you wanted to build physical toughness, what would you do? You would work out. You would force yourself to lift heavy objects. Well, it’s the same with mental toughness.
To cultivate mental toughness, you have to consistently force yourself to do the things you don’t want to do.
Doubts, worries, concerns, negative circumstances. We can clump all that into one category. Negative emotions.
- People don’t work out, because they don’t feel like working out.
- People don’t learn a language because they don’t feel like studying hard.
- People don’t learn to play an instrument because they don’t feel like practicing.
So what does this mean? If you get yourself into the habit of doing things even when you don’t feel like doing it. You cultivate mental toughness.
So what are some practical ways you can do this every day?
Method #1 — Make your bed every morning.
Did you make your bed this morning? If not, why not? You probably didn’t feel like doing it, right?
In a commencement speech at the University of Texas, McCraven, who authored the book “Make Your Bed: Little Things Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World,” told students that the importance of making your bed every day was one of the most powerful lessons he learned during his time as a Navy SEAL.
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,″ he said. “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
When I lived in Taiwan, I started doing this, and it’s true. That small act of making your bed after you wake up puts you into work mode. The satisfaction you get from looking at your made bed causes you to want to continue in that feeling. It leads to more work being accomplished throughout the day.
Method #2 — Do at least 10 pushups as soon as you wake up
When you wake up, the last thing you want to do is exercise. Typically you exercise after you’ve gone through an entire morning routine.
When you exercise immediately upon waking up though, you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing. You start the day with the accomplishment of a difficult task.
This builds mental toughness.
If you can’t do 10 pushups at one time, divide it into groups of five. Two sets of five pushups.
If you can’t do five push-ups then divide them into groups of three. Three sets of three pushups.
If you can’t do three pushups, do a few situps each day instead, while you work your way up to three pushups. Once you can do 10 pushups, do 11 each morning, then 12, etc.
I heard this advice given by a basketball coach to his team. He was helping them to build mental toughness. He told them to do 50 pushups as soon as you wake up.
After I started doing the 50 pushups, and making my bed each morning, I began to accomplish much more each day.
- I learned Chinese because I studied more.
- I got much better at basketball because I practiced more.
- I got better at programming because I put in the work on side projects. Built 7 apps on the side.
Learned how to compose classical pieces. Wrote 5 classical pieces.
I got much better on guitar because I practiced more.
So don’t think this is a gimmick. It works.
Method #3 — Write out a todo list for the day
This is a big one because you’re setting up your day for more victories. Use an app or write on a sheet of paper all you want to accomplish that day. Every time you complete a task, check it off.
Make sure that your list doesn’t have too many items. It’s better to overachieve than it is to underachieve.
If you use an app, make sure that the app does not remove a task on completion. This is because at the end of the day, being able to see all the tasks that you’ve completed is an amazing feeling! If you can’t see the completed tasks though, you don’t get that experience.
When you make a list, you’re telling yourself what you’re going to accomplish. When you accomplish the items on your list, even when you don’t feel like it, you build mental toughness.
Also, by going back and seeing all you accomplished that day, you experience the benefits of being mentally tough. It’s a great feeling knowing you did all you set out to do in a day.
Method #4 — When you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to accomplish, rest
This item might sound like it would be a hindrance to mental toughness, but that’s not the case. Why?
We all need to rest, and rest has to have its place in our lives. If we’re always working, then we never have a feeling of accomplishment. In a sense, we’re never doing enough. We feel that we’re always failing because we’re never setting an end to our work.
So have a definite amount of items you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Once you’ve accomplished them, rest. Relax. Do something fun. This doesn’t mean you have to be done working for the entire day, but do something to reward yourself.
Beethoven, one of the most prolific composers ever did not work all the time. He woke up at dawn and worked until 2:00 or 3:00 pm. (So basically an 8 hour workday.) The rest of the day he did things not related to work. And look what he accomplished. — meaningring.com
So when you finished what you set out to accomplish in the day, relax. That feeling of, I’ve earned this relaxation, builds confidence in yourself. That confidence builds your mental toughness.
You often hear the phrase, “There’s not enough time in the day.”
There is enough time if you know what you want to accomplish that day. If you don’t, then you’ll keep throwing work that can go into other days into the current day. You’ll never end the day feeling you’ve accomplished what’s necessary. That will result in you feeling like a failure. Which leads to you doubting yourself. Which erodes your mental toughness.
Anyone can be mentally tough. It’s not an inherited trait. It’s cultivated. And the benefits of mental toughness are well worth the effort. When you’re mentally tough you can succeed in anything. You want to…
- Learn a language?
- Learn to play an instrument?
- Learn a new skill?
- Master a skill?
- Start a successful business?
You can do all these things if you build mental toughness. There will always be challenges. There will always be negative emotions either coming from yourself or others. But you will conquer all this negativity because you trained yourself to be mentally tough.